Marty loved trout fishing. So long as he was alone. Always alone. And though he could walk to the reservoir, it was far enough out of town, that the gum-streaked, grimy streets were worlds away. Here, among the rustling reeds, he could listen to the gentle waves lapping against the grassy bank, and he could breathe.
He raises his arm and executes a perfect cast, flicking the fly out across the water and releasing the line so that it unfurls from his fingers and curls through the still air. The fly falls gently onto the surface with barely a ripple. Not bad, he thinks.
And as he counts silently, measuring out the time it will take his fly to sink to the correct depth, he isn’t aware that his lips are moving. The shape of his line on the water, the feel of it against his fingertips; these are the only things that exist for him now. There are no thoughts of home, or work, or the errands he should’ve run. No thought of what time it as. His only deadline is the setting of the Sun.
But just as the light fades and Marty flicks his eyes toward the horizon, the fishing line tightens for the briefest moment. Marty grips the line and raises his arm to set the hook, but it’s too late. The wary fish has not bitten the fly properly and Marty’s line is suddenly slack again.
It doesn’t matter. The fish is there and it’s hungry. Surely it must be a big fish to be so cautious. A younger, more reckless fish would’ve grabbed his fly and held onto it for grim death. Marty smiles and fixes his eyes on the place where the fish must be. “There you are,” he whispers. Gently, he draws in a few yards of line and makes another cast. Something beneath the surface swirls the water near his fly and his heart races. He takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. Almost instinctively, his fingers work to take up the slack in his line. Wait. He watches the line, taking account of the wind above the water’s surface and the currents that run beneath it. This is it. This is one of the moments he lives for.
He casts again and again, hunting out the fish. Which way would it have been swimming? Was it cruising the shallows seeking out the hatching flies, or diving deeper to feed on the nymphs that wriggled below? He can’t afford to neglect any possibility.
As the shadows around him deepen and the air cools, a cloud of tiny black gnats do some hunting of their own and home in on Marty’s neck and face. He scarcely notices.
And then suddenly it is almost dark.
Marty curses under his breath and looks from side to side. His shoulders slump. Stupid. He doesn’t even have a torch. He reels in his line as quickly as he can, and that is when the fish, tormented by the fly, finally decides to eat the damn thing. It strikes. The line slips through Marty’s fingers and for a heartbeat he forgets to raise the rod. He tightens his grip on the line, but just as he thought, the fish is a big one and it dives hard, stripping the line from the reel.
The fight is long. Each time Marty is sure the fish has tired, it makes another break for freedom. Until finally, he raises his rod and guides the exhausted creature over the lip of his landing net. He’s shocked by its weight as he lifts the fish onto the bank. He can see, even in this poor light, that it’s a handsome specimen. A fine rainbow trout and certainly the largest he’s ever caught. He takes out his priest and holds the weighted end above the fish’s head. It’s a shame, he thinks. But catch and release is not allowed on this reservoir and rules are rules. He brings the priest down sharply, striking the fish across the top of its head, just behind the eyes. Its muscles convulse and shudder for a moment, and then it is still.
Marty bags the fish then bends down to the lake’s edge to wash the slime from his hands. He gathers his tackle as quickly as he can, scanning the grassy bank in case he’s dropped anything. “What’s the use?” he mutters. “I can’t see a thing.”
He sets off toward the road, his fishing tackle jangling in his bag as it bumps against his side with every hurried step. Ahead, the stand of pine trees is an even deeper stain against the darkening sky. Marty sets his jaw. The path takes him through the patch of dense woodland. There is no way around it. Never mind, he thinks, my eyes are used to the dark. He sets his jaw and strides firmly forward.
But as soon as he steps into the deeper shadows among the trees, he stumbles on an unseen tree root. He regains his balance and marches on. “Bloody thing,” he grumbles. He adjusts his tackle bag, pulling it closer to him. Why does it have to make so much noise? Not that there’s anyone else there to hear it. Unless… No. He’s alone. He’s safer here at night than walking the streets back in town. There are no drunks here, no gangs of teenagers with nothing better to do than make a nuisance of themselves. Alone. After all, who else would be mad enough to be up here at this stupid hour?
But if there was someone out there, in the dark, what then?
Marty pauses and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He listens. But there isn’t even a breeze among the treetops to disturb the silence. He takes a breath. Worrying about nothing, he thinks. But nevertheless, some instinct makes him reach in his pocket for his fishing knife. The smooth handle feels good in his hand. He snaps the blade open. It’s a good knife, sharp enough to fillet a fish, and the blade’s lock is strong enough to stop it from closing on his fingers. It’s not a weapon, he thinks. Not a weapon. But as he sets off again, he holds the knife out in front of him; ready. Just keep walking, he tells himself. Soon he’ll be out of this dark wood and he’ll meet the road, see the lights of the town in the distance. And then he’ll put his knife away. Then he’ll be fine. He shakes his head. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have kidded himself that he could see in this gloom? Next time, he’ll be more careful.
The gamekeeper’s eyes are used to the dark. He’s been waiting, standing in the shadows beneath the trees for an hour and a half. There have been reports of a poachers, probably an organised gang. But he’s had a wasted evening. So far.
The man blundering towards him is no poacher. From the look of him, with his huge bag of gear, he’s a typical townie fisherman, perhaps even a regular. But the rules say that all fishing stops at dusk. He should’ve been gone by now. He probably hasn’t caught anything, but even so, it wouldn’t hurt to check his licence, remind him of the regulations. Give him a fright, he thinks. And as the fisherman passes in front of him, the gamekeeper smiles and silently, he steps from the shadows.
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